Sniper Elite V2 Review
For a long stretch of video game history, World War II games were the beaten horse of the medium, battered into submission by developers that just couldn’t seem to stop making them. Eventually, market saturation took its toll, and gamers abandoned the Greatest Generation out of familiarity and boredom.
Now that some time has passed, it’s actually strangely satisfying to return to 1945 with Sniper Elite V2, a relentlessly traditional game that even starts with a grainy, black-and-white map of Europe and a inky tide spreading out over it, signifying the advance of Hitler’s forces.
Except by 1945, all that ink is blotted up, and the remains of the Wehrmacht are engaged in a desperate defense of Berlin itself. Enter OSS sniper Karl Fairburne, a blandly handsome hero with a noir growl and a commando uniform that wouldn’t look out of place on a windy day in modern San Francisco.
Sniper Elite V2: PC
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Playstation 3, X-box 360
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Publisher: Rebellion Developments, 505 Games
Released: May 1st, 2012
Fairburne is in Berlin to keep Germany’s rocket scientists — brain-trust of the V2 program — out of Soviet hands. He goes about this business with ruthless efficiency. Sniper Elite barely concerns itself with plot or character, confining what little narrative there is to matter-of-fact mission briefings.
Developers Rebellion Developments have a strong visual sense; even the main menu is impressive, with its various options super-imposed onto a wall in the middle of a freeze-framed firefight. This talent extends to the environments, which recreate the last throes of the Third Reich in striking detail. Architectural triumphs like cathedrals, cavernous department stores, and the Brandenburg Gate mix with piles of rubble and bombed-out husks. Fans of Enemy At the Gates will find themselves right at home. One mission, set in the gloom of a subterranean V2 factory, is particularly well-designed.
Due to the nature of Fairburne’s mission, players will find themselves fighting both Nazi and Soviet soldiers; Rebellion pulls off a neat trick by introducing both of America’s traditional bogeymen as enemies. Unfortunately, the difference between the two is expressed mostly by their listless dialogue. Ever since Wolfenstein, cheesy, foreign-language phrases have been a staple of World War II games, and Sniper Elite blunders directly into the trap. Expect to hear phrases like “We’ll find you!” and “Keep looking” repeated ad nauseam by voice actors who sound like they’d rather by napping. That said, the German word for sniper, “Scharfschutzer,” is amusing in any context.
These vocal cues can also inspire dread. Sniper Elite is mostly a stealth-based game, and the game’s preternaturally sharp-eyed enemies exclaim in German or Russian when you’re spotted. To succeed, players will want to creep around in third-person view, staying behind cover and out of sight. The cover system is adequate, but just — expect difficulty moving around corners and from one hiding spot to another. In some sections, you’ll have little choice but to engage an enemy force that already knows your location; in others, it can be extremely hard to tell whether stealth or assault is the best course of action — a frustrating quandary.
Fairburne is armed with a succession of rifles: the American Springfield M1903, the Russian Moisin-Nagant, and the German Gewehr 43, which provide a simple, elegant progression. He also begins each mission with a Thompson submachine gun, and can pick up Russian PPSh-41′s and German MP-40′s, although ammunition for all three is in chronically short supply.
More useful is the silenced Welrod pistol, deadly and stealthy from close range. Fairburne can also deploy land mines and tripwire grenades to cover his escape routes and defend his vantage points. Stringing tripwires is simple but fun, and the game rewards such careful planning.
Enemies in Sniper Elite are extremely sensitive to noise, and will coming running to investigate the sound of your footsteps, even in the midst of an artillery bombardment. Sound can also work in the player’s favor, however. Fairburne can throw rocks to lure or distract enemies, and during certain sequences, an indicator appears on screen to indicate that environmental noises — industrial machinery, explosions, sirens — will cover the sound of your sniper shots. Internalizing the rhythm of these noises and picking off sentries accordingly is a fun a challenge, and these sequences are among the game’s best.
As the title makes obvious, sniping is the meat of the gameplay, and the camera switches to a first-person view when you bring up your scope. Realistic ballistics is one of the game’s big selling points, and I opted for “Sniper Elite” difficulty from the outset, which promised realism. Little did I know I was choosing between ballistics and a number of gameplay features only available on lower difficulty levels.